The Golf, with its four-wheel drive, twin-clutch gearbox and launch control, is a doddle to fire off the line. Select ESP Sport, hold the car briefly on the brakes with your left foot and mash the throttle with your right. With the brakes released, the car pauses as if taking a deep breath, then launches down the straight like it’s been fired from a cannon, streaking to 60mph in 4.5sec. From there on the VW accelerates with a relentless energy the other two can’t match, its gearbox firing each ratio home with the speed and precision of a Bruce Lee one-inch punch.
Launching the Renault and Honda requires a couple of runs to refine the perfect technique. The Mégane is more dramatic, flaring into wheelspin and sending shockwaves through the transmission with the flat-chat change from first to second. It feels brutal and it hits 60mph in 6.3sec. Getting the Civic away from the line involves less mechanical torture, partly because the turbocharged 2-litre won’t rev beyond 3500rpm when the car’s stationary. Still, that’s enough to get a peachy getaway with just a dash of wheelspin, and 60mph arrives 0.3sec quicker than in the Renault.
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Once rolling it’s harder to split our trio, but it’s the Renault with its tightly spaced and relatively short intermediate ratios that makes lighter work of the third-, fourth- and fifth-gear tests. That said, we’re talking tenths of a second.
Given its blistering display in the standing-start test, it’s a surprise to find the Golf bottom of the pile at braking. Its best and worst stopping distances are the longest, and its pedal starts to go mushy after the fourth stop and has virtually sunk to the floor by the tenth (accompanied by clouds of smoke). By contrast, the Renault’s pedal response only starts to go soft by the seventh run and only the whiff of singed friction material lets you know the Brembos are feeling the heat. Best here is the Honda. Its stopping distances get a little longer with each run, but the pedal remains firm and the brakes always feel like they have plenty of bite, even after the tenth stop. In fact, the Civic feels like it’d happily do the whole thing again.